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Bringing Shared Lives to older people in rural locations

Where is home and what does it mean to you? It can be a physical building but for many of us it is a feeling, a place, a smell or a view. The people who know you, being a ‘regular’, stopping for a chat, a beaten track and reassuring landmarks. When you’ve lived somewhere all your life and these things are part of your routine it can be hard to think how you might live without them.

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Having to give up what’s familiar because your health and wellbeing are failing can be one of the hardest decisions. A 2015 study by the Strategic Society Centre found that 80% of older homeowners wished to stay where they are. The Centre for Ageing Better found that 84% of people aged 70 and over felt that they strongly belong to their neighbourhood. But what if you could stay in the place you love and be supported by the community?

In Shared Lives, some one that has developed care needs can visit, or move in long-term with, a local Shared Lives carer. Shared Lives carers are fully trained and approved and provide care in their own home – no institutions, no wards or blank walls. A Shared Lives household is a home from home, complete with pets, family and friends. Shared Lives carers are matched with people based on compatibility, where they live and what they can offer – so the support is completely personal and tailored to the individual. It is also rated as the highest quality and safest form of care by the CQC.

In 2019 we received funding from the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund and worked with Shared Lives schemes to explore how they could meet the needs of older people living in rural and isolated parts of the country. The project, which covered parts of Cornwall and Devon, Shropshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire set out to discover what older people in these areas wanted from services, what provision already existed and how Shared Lives could offer support.

Most of the older people we spoke to wanted to stay at home and usually this is the best option – but it can put a lot of pressure on family carers and local adult services. In rural areas the distances needed to travel can be prohibitive, meaning that some people are left for long periods of time without respite or help and support. Flexible, local Shared Lives day support and short breaks can help fill this gap and at the same time provide rewarding work opportunities for local people.

During the project, the schemes assessed and approved 20 new Shared Lives carers to support people locally. The project forged new partnerships between Shared Lives schemes and local services which have great potential for future referrals into Shared Lives and for flexible, holistic support for older people to stay in their communities. The partners in the project continue to look at ways they can reach more people who can benefit from Shared Lives care and support.

In this short film, made in rural Aberdeenshire, we saw power of Shared Lives to help people stay in and enjoy their communities to the full when we met Brian, who lives with his Shared Lives carer Shiri. Brian has become part of the family, and his confidence and connection to the local community have flourished. Shiri and her family can stay in their wonderful family home because of the employment she has through Shared Lives while Brian gets to enjoy the great outdoors that he loves, working  on the land and selling logs. We also met Doug and his carer Joyce who came to visit Brian and Shiri at the same time. They also live locally, which is incredibly important to Doug, who loves his local area and the people in it: “it’s a great place to stay – everyone speaks to one another”

Pauline Desborough, a social worker with Aberdeenshire Shared Lives says: ‘ often there can be decline in people’s health if they are moved to  a new environment, we can keep people at home for longer by offering them good, meaningful support.’

There is growing recognition  of the need to provide meaningful support for older people  in rural communities. Age Scotland recently stated on the increase in an ageing population in rural Scotland: ‘With a growing number of older people living alone, it is critical that we support people to live well and safely in their own homes, that they have enough income and are well connected to people, services and their community… regardless of where they live. When planning to enhance communities, the Scottish Government and councils across the country must not forget rural Scotland’

Many Shared Lives schemes are looking at ways they can support more older people and those in rural areas. Contact us or your local scheme to find out more.